A prototype just shown to high-ranking Ducati employees is thought to be the closest anyone has yet seen to the actual successor to the legendary 996.
Ducati presented its plans for the next three years to the bosses of factory-owned subsidiaries such as Ducati UK at a secret meeting in Italy.
Even though a release date has yet to be set and the bike could still be altered before it is officially unveiled, MCN’s sources have been able to give a detailed description of the new machine’s style.
The styling is reminiscent of Ducati’s current 900SS – but sharpened and modernised to suit its role as the firm’s range-leading machine. The similarity is unsurprising given that, like the 900SS, the new 999 is the work of Ducati styling chief Pierre Terblanche.
He faces the challenge of not only surpassing the superb 916/996 design by the legendary Massimo Tamburini – now design boss at MV Agusta – but also designing a bike with the aerodynamics to help Ducati take yet more WSB titles.
According to MCN’s sources, he has succeeded on the aerodynamic front, but the jury is still out on the success of the new aesthetics.
The new bike is claimed to break new ground on keeping the all-important frontal area down to the barest minimum. MCN’s source said: " It has clear 900SS styling cues, but it’s amazingly narrow. In fact, the bodywork is so tightly fitted to the engine that the alternator cover is moulded into the lower fairing shape. "
Terblanche has intentionally distanced the bike from the current 996, giving a totally different appearance rather than trying to keep a family resemblance – an understandable decision given that the 996’s styling concept has already been developed a stage further by Tamburini in the form of the MV Agusta F4.
So the single-sided swingarm that has always been a 996 trademark has been ditched in favour of a more rigid, lighter double-sided design, while the twin, fox-eye headlights have also been dropped. There are still a pair of headlights, on the new design they are stacked vertically, one above the other, as on Benelli’s Tornado.
However, those that have seen the bike are unconvinced. One said: " The look is different, but not stunning. I’m not sure if I like it or not. "
The styling may have been revealed, but there is still very little technical information available. The engine is expected to be a development of the firm’s new Testastretta, while the prototype’s frame is still a steel trellis design, as on all other Ducatis.
At the moment, it’s unlikely that the bike will appear at any of this year’s shows, unless Ducati decides to reveal it as nothing more than a prototype. At the moment, the firm is still working on fitting the new Testastretta engine to all 2002 996s, so it is unlikely to reveal a new bike to steal the limelight.
Instead, the 999 is likely to appear in 2003, selling alongside the 996.
Next year’s 996 will get a minor facelift, including new side panels like the 996R’s and minute front and rear end tweaks. However, at a glance it will still clearly be a 996.